1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-5).
Traditionally, Calvinists interpret v5 as denoting all kinds of men. Calvinists justify that interpretation by interpreting v5 in light of vv1-2, where they say the prayer for all men denotes all the different kinds of men, viz. representatives from different social classes.
Arminians regard this interpretation as a subterfuge. To construe v5 that way violates the “plain sense” of the passage, and illustrates the desperate lengths to which the Calvinist will go to salvage his unscriptural belief-system.
For now I’m not going to assess the merits of the traditional Reformed interpretation. Instead, I wish to briefly explore the Arminian alternative.
If prayer for all men doesn’t mean prayer for all kinds of men, then what does it mean? How does Timothy pray for all men, exactly? And what, exactly, does he pray for? Likewise, how does a modern Arminian pray for all men? And what, exactly, does he pray for?
i) On the Arminian interpretation, if prayer for all men doesn’t mean prayer for representative sample groups, then, presumably, the Arminian alternative means that we (or Timothy) pray for every individual.
ii) Suppose Timothy prays for two minutes. How does he pray for every individual in the course of his 2-minute prayer? To begin with, some people are born (or conceived) every minute while other people die every minute (and pass onto to heaven or hell).
So Timothy can’t pray for the same individuals in the course of his 2-minute prayer, can he? Every individual he prays for at the outset of his prayer doesn’t belong to the same set of individuals as every individual he is still praying for at the conclusion of his prayer. For in the duration of his 2-minute prayer, there has already been some turnover in the overall referents. He ends with a slightly different set of referents than he began with.
And, of course, modernity exacerbates the fluidity of the intended referent, for the rate of turnover is even higher in the 21C than it was in the 1C.
iii) How does Timothy pray for every individual when he doesn’t even know how many individual human beings exist at the time he received Paul’s letter? How does he pray for individuals in Alaska or Hawaii or other corners of the globe when he doesn’t even know that there are people living in Alaska or Hawaii? How can he pray for individual Hawaiians if he doesn’t know that Hawaii exists?
And even in modern times, estimating the population of the world at any given time is just an educated guess, not an exact figure by any means. How can we pray for every individual when we don’t even have a net figure? How can we pray for every individual if we don’t know how many individuals we are praying for? In what sense is that an individualized prayer?
iv) If Timothy prays for every individual, what does he prayer for? Does each human being have the same needs? Is there one generic prayer that we should pray for everyone? And, if so, what would that be?
Should we pray that God saves everyone? If so, is that a sincere, meaningful prayer?
Should we pray that God saves St. Paul? But don’t we have good reason to think that’s a done deal by now? Hasn’t God already saved St. Paul? Isn’t St. Paul safely in heaven by now?
Conversely, we know that God doesn’t save everyone. So isn’t it hypocritical to ask God to do something even though we know that God has no intention of answering our prayer?
Or, suppose, for the sake of argument, that God will save everyone sooner or later. But even if universalism were true, or especially if universalism were true, then someone’s salvation can’t very well depend on whether or not I pray for him. If I didn’t pray for him, would he be damned? But if, ad arguendo, God will save everyone, then that can’t be contingent on my prayer, can it? To the extent that it were contingent on somebody’s prayer, there would have to be a backup system in case I fail to pray for that individual. Another supplicant must take up the slack.
But if we’re not to pray for everyone’s salvation, then what are we to pray for–assuming that we’re obligated to pray for every individual? What exactly, and I do mean “exactly,” is the content of that prayer?
Or is the Arminian contention that while we ought to pray for every individual, we don’t pray for the same thing in each case? Very well, then. But if we don’t know each and every individual, then how can we pray for different things for different men, women, children? How can our prayers differentiate between different individuals? How can we know what’s suitable for anonymous individuals?
v) Or does this mean that we pray certain types of prayers, which automatically apply to whatever individuals happen to fit the terms of the prayer?
But if that’s what it really amounts to, then isn’t that equivalent to praying for different kinds of individuals? Different types of prayer whose typical content corresponds to different types of individuals? Individuals in roughly those circumstances?
If so, how does that distinguish the Arminian interpretation from the Reformed interpretation? Isn’t that praying for different kinds of people–according to the general nature of their particular situation? Where the sort of situation self-selects for the sort of individual in question?
vi) I’ve been discussing v1 rather than v5, but since the meaning of v1 is a premise for the traditional Reformed interpretation of v5, and since Arminians attack that premise, that is what I’ve chosen to focus on.